Friday Poem: 'In a Cardiff Arcade, 1952'

Shore2Shore, a poetry tour of the many wonderful independent bookshops across this country, has sadly come to an end. But along the way, we encountered many hard-working and devoted booksellers and heard some brilliant poetry.

Gillian Clark wrote this poem for the Off the Shelf collection, which celebrates books and bookshops around the UK, and she read it every night of the tour. She would introduce this poem by saying that writers wouldn’t be writers without libraries, English teachers and of course great bookshops, so it was her way of thanking all of the country’s many passionate booksellers.

In a Cardiff Arcade, 1952

One of those little shops too small

for the worlds they hold, where words

that sing you to sleep, stories

that stalk your dreams,

open like golden windows in a wall.


One small room leads to another,

the first bright-windowed on the street,

alluring, luminous. The other is dusk,

walled with pressed pages, old books

with leathery breath and freckled leaves.


What stays is not the book alone

but where you took it down,

how it felt in your hands,

how she wrapped it in brown paper,

how you carried it home,


how it holds wild seas

that knock the earth apart,

how words burn, freeze,

to break and heal your heart.


For more on Shore2Shore, read the Shore2Shore tour diary.

Photo: copyright Camilla Elworthy.

Off The Shelf

by Carol Ann Duffy

Book cover for Off The Shelf

In Off the Shelf: A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has commissioned a selection of the UK’s most loved and lauded poets to each write a poem in celebration of books and bookshops - the worlds they hold, the freedoms they promise, and the memories they evoke. From a basement of forgotten books to the shelves of a cramped Welsh arcade, from the poetry corner of the local bookstore to the last bookshop standing in a post-apocalyptic world, these are poems that pay tribute to all the places that house the stories we treasure.